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Men with cancer missing out on sperm storage

1 November 2010
Appeared in BioNews 582

New research has revealed many men receiving treatment for cancer are not offered the chance to bank their sperm. Chemotherapy drugs may cause fertility problems in both men and women, but patients may choose to store their sperm or eggs prior to treatment for future use.

Dr Ann Adams, an author of the study from Warwick Medical School, said their findings: 'are very concerning and show that doctors in the UK aren't following sperm banking guidance, meaning many men are missing the opportunity to store their sperm for the future'.

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) states all men and adolescent boys undergoing cancer treatment which may leave them infertile should be offered the chance to store their sperm. 'Instead it appears that clinicians are deciding who is offered the chance to bank sperm based on their own personal beliefs, attitudes and assumptions about their patients' likelihood of starting a family in the future', said Dr Adams.

The researchers from the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust designed a questionnaire, which was sent to oncologists and haematologists across the UK on the advice they give male cancer patients.

Of the 499 clinicians who responded, only half agreed that information on sperm banking is readily available to patients, and 21 percent of them were unaware of local policies on sperm banking. Only 26 percent of oncologists and 38 percent of haematologists said they routinely documented conversations with patients about banking their sperm. However, nearly all the clinicians believed advising on this issue was integral to their role.

The survey also revealed doctors' own assumptions on patients' needs for sperm banking depending on age, sexual orientation and severity of illness and - in some cases - their own moral conclusions, influenced whether they discussed sperm banking with patients.

Commenting on the study, Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: 'There have been a number of studies over the years showing doctors do not always offer men the opportunity to bank sperm prior to cancer treatment. However, most studies are from North America and so it is alarming to discover that this is also happening in the UK where we have clear professional guidance and an extensive sperm banking infrastructure'. He added: 'Sperm banking not only preserves fertility, but also has psychological benefit to men diagnosed with cancer'.

Professor Geraldine Hartshorne, co-author of the study, said: 'We're urging clinicians to discuss sperm banking with all their male cancer patients. Improved awareness and access to training for clinicians would hopefully increase both the opportunity and the uptake of sperm banking for cancer patients'.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: 'More and more people are surviving cancer so findings ways to improve their quality of life after treatment is becoming increasingly important'. The study was published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

Cancer patients 'being denied' chance of fatherhood
Daily Telegraph |  28 October 2010
Cancer patients 'not banking sperm'
Press Association |  27 October 2010
Many male cancer patients are missing out on sperm banking
Cancer Research UK (press release) |  28 October 2010
Many UK cancer patients miss out on sperm banking
Reuters |  28 October 2010
Who should be offered sperm banking for fertility preservation? A survey of UK oncologists and haematologists
Annals of Oncology |  27 October 2010
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